A piece of music history used as a photographic memento for fans of Nirvana for about 30 years is coming to Aberdeen, and the man who bought the sign couldn’t be happier.
Wil Russoul, executive director of Downtown Aberdeen Association, has worked since October 2018 to acquire the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) mileage sign on Highway 8 outside McCleary, which shows drivers that it’s 6 miles to Elma, 16 miles to Montesano and 26 miles to Aberdeen, and place it in Aberdeen.
It took three years and three months for Russoul to make his dream become a reality because on Thursday, Jan. 13, the sign was removed from the highway and it was brought to Aberdeen. It was slated to come down soon, but Russoul wanted to make sure it was protected.
Russoul was spirited, with a capital “S,” about the sign coming down and its temporary move into a locked garage, the first step before it finds its home in Aberdeen, where it will be displayed in one of the birthplaces of grunge music.
“The fans of Nirvana won,” he said with a big enthusiastic grin as he stood with his arms outstretched in front of the sign.
Russoul said it seemed surreal to finally have the sign.
“I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t real, is it?,’” he said. “This was a larger moment than I thought.”
The sign will sit temporarily in a locked garage while Russoul and his team figure out the logistics required to get it displayed properly. The preferred location is on the city lot next to the Tesla Supercharger lot and against ColorTyme Rent-To-Own, all on East Wishkah Street, so it’s easy for people to find once they transit across the Wishkah River Bridge and enter downtown Aberdeen.
“It’s a free area that’s easy to find for anyone coming into town,” he said. “And then we start to build out the amenities. How people gauge downtown and how they learn about Nirvana from right there.”
Russoul said WSDOT is the last hurdle for the sign. The concern is that the sign would potentially direct traffic, or confuse people as they enter Aberdeen. So, Russoul’s team needs to alleviate those concerns.
“Whether we put up trees, tilt (the sign) a certain way,” he said. “Put something so when people come into town, they’re not like ‘What, we’re not in Aberdeen?’ We still have 26 miles to go?”
The late-Kurt Cobain, a left-handed Fender guitarist and singer who founded the world-famous band Nirvana and was from Aberdeen, made the sign outside McCleary on Highway 8 famous with a photograph. He once stood on bass player Krist Novoselic’s hands and stretched his right arm over the 1 next to Montesano and the 2 next to Aberdeen to make the mileage sign show “666.” Tourists driving to Aberdeen would stop and strike the same pose.
Search for “Nirvana 666 sign” online. Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave, who’s been a fan of music since the 1960s, did.
Schave, who was in attendance for the sign’s move into the locked garage, said he didn’t know why the sign was so important.
“I had to research why this sign is so significant, I’m so sorry,” he said to Russoul.
Schave said the sign, and Russoul’s vision for it, is important because there are a lot of Nirvana fans throughout Aberdeen. He sees the sign’s future spot sparking a little fun and adventure for the city.
“This sign will become part of our whole community,” he said. “It’ll become a part of a collection of art and different things that enhance our community, particularly for, in this case, the age group that loves Nirvana’s music.”
However, Russoul said that unlike a lot of music, Nirvana’s fanbase is growing younger. Maybe that will include Schave’s young granddaughter Peyton, who was there with her grandfather for the sign’s arrival in Aberdeen.
“It looks big,” she said with her eyes wide open.
Then she asked Schave why the 6 on the bottom of the sign, layered with what looks like yellow and white spray paint, looked weird. Her grandfather explained.
“There was a 6, then the Department of Transportation put a 7 on top of the 6,” Schave said. “And then somebody came back and painted another 6 back on top of the 7. There’s a reason, but it’s way over your head.”
Carmen Noguer, who’s assisting Russoul with social media for the sign project, said WSDOT will replace the sign with one that will be a mile closer to Elma, Montesano and Aberdeen.
Russoul said the mileage sign was due to be replaced, but he wanted to pay for the sign — through a grant in which Downtown Aberdeen Association applied — to make sure it wasn’t damaged before it was replaced. It’ll be the last one of its kind.
“Part of our deal (with WSDOT) is there will never be another “666” sign on Highway 8 near McCleary,” he said.
Noguer, who went to Aberdeen High School with Cobain’s sister Kim, said she’s excited to see the band’s legacy return to Aberdeen. Noguer said she’s always been a fan of Nirvana and that she saw Cobain lead the trio — including Novoselic and Dave Grohl — in the early 1990s at the former Key Arena in Seattle.
She said her children also have an affection for Nirvana, who got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
“They love Nirvana,” she said. “It’s really a legacy of music. Younger people really relate to Kurt (Cobain’s) music.”
Schave, who admittedly was too old to appreciate Nirvana when the band originated in 1987, is instead a big fan of The Beatles, The Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“I can remember when the first Beatles album came out,” he said. “I bought it in the store there in Hoquiam. That says a lot about my age.”
Russoul said he appreciates Schave’s support in attending the event. He also wanted to thank Grays Harbor Community Foundation for believing in him and the project.
But, mostly, he’s excited as can be about the sign finding its spot in downtown Aberdeen. He compared it to the Jimi Hendrix Memorial in Renton.
“I want to come to work early in the morning, see some candles still lit and a guy out there playing guitar (and) writing a song,” Russoul said. “Always, fans were there. I went there. People left their guitar picks. They left notes.”
He said people still write songs in Renton. And like them, Russoul said he has written songs underneath one of the Nirvana landmarks in Aberdeen, the Wishkah River Bridge.
“I sit there and listen to them and what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s like, he’s still there affecting people. And I’ve been under the bridge many times. There are pictures of me playing songs and writing songs underneath the bridge. You get inspired.”